Fiction Reviews

From Darkest Skies

(2017) Sam Peters, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 320pp, ISBN 978-1-473-21475-0


It is one and a half centuries since the enigmatic aliens known as The Masters suddenly left the Solar System leaving behind some unfathomable technology that refuses to be reverse engineered and many unanswered questions.

Agent Keona (Keys) Rause, still mourning his murdered wife Laura after five years, is working on Earth, seconded from his home (colony) world of Magenta. Much of his earnings over this time have gone into creating an artificial intelligence (AI) loaded with all the information, state records, personal photographs, blog records and so forth. The AI he calls Liss can be downloaded into robotic android shells and mechanical servants or reside in his home's computer system.

Now it is time for him to return to Magenta and his old job with the Magentan Investigation Bureau. Though it will mean smuggling Liss onto that world as AIs based on real people – even if the said people are deceased – is illegal , but Keona is out to find out more about his wife's death.

It will also mean re-adjusting back to Magenta's 1.4g and its unforgiving weather of almost relentless storms that rage for much of the time across the narrow equatorial belt, the only really habitable place on the planet.

Upon returning, Keona is given a couple of junior agents with whom to work with on a new case of someone who overdosed in an unusual and spectacular way on a narcotic derived from the exobiological, local vegetation. He also sets about investigating the circumstances of his wife's death. Yet the more he uncovers he begins to realise that there was an aspect of his wife's life about which he was unaware and wonders if the AI Liss is being totally open to him…?

There is plenty going on in this novel with which to engage the reader and many genre tropes explored for SF aficionados: robotics, exobiology, an alien world, mysterious invading sentients, artificial intelligence as well as more mundane computing and hacking. The reader is therefore satisfactorily propelled through to an intriguingly satisfying ending.

Having said that, some of these tropes are simply a McGuffin which is a little annoying as these make for some of the most interesting aspects of the novel. (Maybe we will see these explored in sequels or prequels: it would be a waste if this was a single, standalone novel.) Where this book scores is that it has the feel of a solid detective thriller and if you like mundane detective stories in addition to SF then you will be bound to enjoy From Darkest Skies.  Indeed, apparently the novel has been optioned for television.

Jonathan Cowie

See also Mark's take on From Darkest Skies.


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